“Lord, grant me steadiness of hand and sureness of stroke,” I silently beg on repeat while approaching Swedish model Elsa Sylvan’s eyelid with a copper pencil. Her head sways erratically as a hairstylist rakes her blonde mane, only adding to my blood-pressure spike. See, I’m not a makeup artist, yet here I am backstage at New York Fashion Week, half an hour before the Badgley Mischka show. “It’s moving-target makeup,” jokes M.A.C senior artist Melissa Gibson, who’s been tracing cat eyes backstage for 24 years.
Instead of jabbing tape recorders in artists’ faces and scribbling details in my notebook, I’m deep in the pressure cooker of lightning-fast, highly skilled catwalk creativity, hoping to learn how the other backstage-half lives.
It all started at 6:15 this morning, when Gibson and I met in our hotel lobby, then heaved her 50-pound kit into a cab for Lincoln Center. No street-style poseurs at this ungodly hour. We gathered around the show’s key makeup artist, Tom Pecheux, for the demo. “The story is based on a Hitchcock girl on the red carpet,” he explained in his heavy French accent. Winged liner, bright lipstick and false lashes—not the lowball minimalism I had hoped for.
Another obstacle: Our model was late, forcing hair and makeup to work simultaneously. I grab the red lip liner and recall Gibson’s prep lesson advice: “Make the model smush her lips together so you can see how they naturally form, then do the edges after.” The hairstylist’s yanks distract from my uncertain prods—I hope. “Nice!” offers Gibson. With that small victory, I attempt the eyes, painting blue liner under the lower lashes to complete the colour-block effect. Minutes tick away, and I dash to the front to catch the show. Tragically, the real makeup artists must stay behind for last-minute touch-ups, never able to see the catwalk finale.
The first girl steps out, cloaked in darkness, and then suddenly she’s illuminated in a white flash. I grow anxious. “Guys! Powder the face very well, because the lights here are really bright!” Pecheux had yelled out. Will Sylvan’s moment reveal my amateur makeup? Instead, I hear the woman beside me whisper, “She’s pretty!” Ninety-nine percent good genes, I think with a smile, one percent answered prayer.
The Goods: Shhh! The backstage tools I lifted from Lincoln Center
A Q-tip and M.A.C Matte, $24, an oil-zapping primer, cleaned up mistakes without smudging all my work.
These fun, fanned bristles (M.A.C 184 Duo Fibre Fan Brush, $27.50) allowed me to build up models’ cheek contours gradually, without the product dump of a big fluffy brush.
One quick, light stroke of M.A.C Eye Kohl in Powersurge, $19, gave me way better cat-eye flicks than the slow, drawn-out method I used to try at home.